ZEPHYRHILLS — The inspiration came from a country music song, though his father doesn't remember which one. But three years ago, Marcus Mathes made an announcement.
"He said, 'I was listening to the radio the other day, to Toby Keith, and I decided to join the Army,'" his father, Ralph Mathes said Tuesday. "I said, 'Couldn't you change the damn station?'"
Marcus Mathes, a Zephyrhills High School graduate, died Monday near Baghdad, his family said Tuesday.
Mathes, 26, was at his base working on a truck when he and two buddies were killed by rocket fire, his father said.
The Defense Department could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Mathes left for boot camp on his 23rd birthday, March 15, 2005. He served in Afghanistan from October 2006 until March 2007. In November 2007, he left for Iraq.
He loved the excitement.
"He'd call and say, 'We took gunfire off the side of the helicopter. It was so cool,'" his father said.
He had "US Army" tattooed into his skin. He also had a tattoo of an American eagle, and also one of his wife's name.
Julia Mathes and her husband planned to celebrate their sixth anniversary in June. Now, Julia, 24, is arranging to have the pastor who married them oversee his funeral.
"I literally have no tears right now," she said Tuesday. "They will not come out.
"He was my life. Where do you go…what do you do when your life just fades away?"
Two years ago, when she and Mathes lived on base in Fort Polk, La., her older sister Heather came to visit. Mathes introduced her to a soldier named Bryan Harvey. Two months later, Heather and Bryan were married.
Harvey, also deployed to Iraq, was only a few trucks away from Mathes when the rocket hit.
"He went over to where it happened and started picking up the pieces of Marcus' Bible," said Heather Harvey, 26.
The family hopes that Harvey will be allowed to leave Iraq to escort Mathes' body home.
Mathes will be buried at the National Cemetery in Bushnell. The funeral date has not been set.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-521-6518.